They did it again! The four that were not on suspension walked out of Parliament on 11th July 2017 during one of the most consequential debates in the House for the last 20 years or so. I am left scratching my head wondering what role the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) Members of Parliament imagine themselves as having in the Zambian Legislature.
Even though we all knew that the results of the Parliamentary vote was a foregone conclusion, why would the UPND MPs who claim to be representing their voters pass up the opportunity to argue vociferously against the 90 days Threatened State Of Emergency (TSOE)? Why did they decide it was pointless to let Zambians hear their arguments against the TSOE, even if for posterity? I had to stop listening to the debate on Parliament Radio after an hour because it became rather predictable.
If I were a UPND MP, even if I had misgivings with the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) government, I would have made sure I attended the debate and questioned the Home Affairs Minister Mr Stephen Kampyongo on the issue of the oftentimes unprofessional Zambia Police which more closely resembles a force than a service. I would ask the Minister for concrete assurances to be given to Zambian citizens that there will be no human rights abuses by the often trigger happy police in the current climate where they have been given broader powers.
Not too long ago, a young student Ruth Mbandu was brutally murdered but instead of professionally investigating the case, the Zambia Police arrested the wrong people and tortured them into signing a confession. The case was thrown out and the suspects freed with the judge strongly rebuking the conduct of the Police.
Why haven’t any of the police officers involved been disciplined, suspended or punished (to our knowledge)? They should have been fired immediately and charged with assault, but instead they are free and probably continue harassing and beating up innocent people.
Meanwhile the murderers of Ruth are still out there enjoying life. I feel sad that the life of a young woman in her prime was cruelly cut short and we have a police force which apparently does not care enough to investigate the case properly. The case has died a natural death as with many things in Zambia.
I saw with my own eyes just last year a Police Land Cruiser driving along the road from Meanwood Airport area towards the Natural Resources DEvelopment College (NRDC) at night. It stopped abruptly, officers jumped out and grabbed people who were peacefully walking along the road and tossed them roughly into the van. There were the usual slaps and all this is apparently normal for us. Even if there is some legal basis due to the infamous one-party era “shishita” laws, why slap people and handle them violently just for walking home at night? What is to be gained by the police harassing peaceful citizens?
In another case, a Zambia Air Force (ZAF) officer was apparently beaten to death while in police custody at Woodlands Police. Initially the police officially blamed the inmates but now their own officers have been charged. If indeed police officers committed the dastardly deeds, one wonders why plenty of them feel comfortable to do illegal things to people they arrest, apparently knowing they shall always get away with it.
We also had the case of a drunk policeman (captured on video) wielding an AK-47 rifle at UPND MP Mr Garry Nkombo which could have led to loss of life in the heat of the argument. The Police defended the officer but a few days later, another video surfaced of a totally drunk officer falling down while in uniform. Up to now the police have never bothered to update us and tell us if the drunk officer was disciplined and what steps they have taken to reduce such indiscipline.
The examples I have mentioned are just a few of the many documented cases stretching from independence to date. Many citizens are fearful that the chequered history of the Zambian police may be a sign of bad things to come. After all, what will stop over-zealous policemen doing unethical and illegal things to appear to be producing results to their superiors?
In the eyes of many Zambians, the UPND MPs have engaged in a serious dereliction of their duty to provide checks and balances. If indeed they care about us Zambians and want to make our lives better and get us to vote for them in 2021, they should have been arguing for the preservation of our human rights and against potential police brutality during the TSOE. Instead, I am seeing the Minister of Justice Mr Given Lubinda making the argument which the four UPND MPs should have been making in the House.
The UPND MPs for example could have asked Mr Kampyongo to set up an independent body for the public to report cases of abuses at the hands of the police during the TSOE. The body can have toll free lines, WhatsApp numbers, emails and the option for reporting anonymously through an online Whistle Blower system. The UPND MPs seem to forget that these and other suggestions they could have made in the House are meant to protect everyone, including innocent UPND members so that there are fewer cases of brutality by rogue police officers.
The UPND MPs keep absconding themselves from Parliament while happily “eating” their fat allowances, salaries and enjoying the power and privilege that comes with their position in society. Whenever there is a debate about increasing salaries of Members of Parliament, not a single UPND MP is absent and they all vote 100% in favour.
I appeal to all the opposition MPs to please be serious and do their duty all the time. If they have good reasons to be frequently absconding from parliament, let them explain themselves to us and we shall be all ears. They should think about the fact that the ruling party will do many more things that they will not like. It will become utter absurdity of the highest order to keep absconding in “protest”.
You can’t keep protesting forever, even when the train has already left the station. With much authority comes great responsibility and the UPND have to put Zambians first instead of their political agendas for which I suspect most Zambians have zero sympathy for. If UPND MPs are not prepared to do what we pay them to do, let them resign on moral grounds and I shall be first to cheer and clap for them for being principled.